Having done a couple of highly enjoyable podcasts recently related to my new work Chaos Monk: Bringing Magical Creativity to the New Monastic Path I thought I would share those links (Here and Here) and a further excerpt from the book:
Art by Greg Humphries from Walking Backwards: The Magical Art of Psychedelic Psychogeography
In thinking further about how we might magically engage with movement in both the body and landscape, I recently interviewed my dear friend and magical co-conspirator Julian Vayne regarding his experiments in psychogeography and the role that it played within his own initiatory work:
- For the uninitiated, could you briefly summarize what Psychogeography actually is?
Psychogeography is an exploration of the relationship between the mind and space. The approach exists in various forms but the term itself was coined by the radical French artists of the Lettrist movement. The term is defined by Guy Debord as ‘the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.’ Since that time many practitioners of the arts and other disciplines have made use of this term and of course it can be linked to pilgrimage, vision quest and many other older practices. In practice I like to think of psychogeography as a series of approaches to landscape where we seek to reveal new aspects of a location and, in doing so, our minds. This could mean exploring a known locality, for example a city, but doing so in a way that disrupts our usual way of being that place. This could involve moving through an urban space while using the map of a different city. It could mean choosing which road to take with a toss of a coin, or some other technique designed to shake up our usual way of being in a place so we get to see it with fresh eyes. Psychogeography can also be about how we move through space, such as whether we walk slowly, whether we back-sight our route as we go, or what we focus our attention on. As an example, I once took a group of psychogeographers around the exterior of the British Museum in London. While we walked the roads around the building, we stopped to take photographs of the objects in the street, such as benches and traffic signs and generally interacted with the urban space around the museum in the way one might engage with the objects encountered within it.
- What is your history with this practice and what drew you to it?
As a child growing up, I had a deep and abiding love of the natural world. However, most of the ‘natural’ spaces I had access to were wastelands and building sites and I had the feeling that there was something wild, something magical in these liminal zones where human activity met the rowdy pioneer plants of bramble and nettle. As a young Pagan I spent plenty of time engaging with ancient stone circles and other prehistoric monuments, and the spirit of place has always been an important part of my practice. Slowly I was able to discern the magic in the fully urban context, helped by writers including Phil Hine’s notion of urban shamanism, the work of William Blake and others. I realized that for me landscape-based practices were about revealing the magic in every space, not just locations considered to be banner-headline ‘sacred’ places.
It seemed clear to me that the process of the journey was important and that, if one could see things in a new way, hidden mysteries could be revealed. My early interest in folklore galvanized these ideas, as did my encounter with the book by Iain Sinclair Lud Heat (1975). In that book Sinclair explores the idea of a kind of ‘psychic heat’ emanating from some of the buildings in London, notably the churches designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor with alleged alchemical imagery in their construction. That and the vogue for ‘earth mysteries’ and even psychic questing in the final decades of the 20th century, encouraged me to explore a variety of psychogeographical practices and to undertake several pilgrimages.
In 2018 Greg Humphries and I published our book Walking Backwards; Or The Magical Art of Psychedelic Psychogeography which explores the interface between esoteric practice, walking and a variety of magical substances. Greg and I have taken many walks together and combined psychogeographical practices with various psychedelic and psychoactives. The experience of taking psychedelic substances is often described in both contemporary vernacular and mythopoetic language as a journey or a trip. While combining these approaches does pose certain challenges the radical change in awareness that can be induced by substances such as LSD, DMT, psilocybin, or mescaline, certainly has the capacity to reveal the awesome, the weird, the sacred and the shadow in our environment to an unparalleled degree. I wrote a bit more about this in The Fool & The Mirror: Essays on Magic, Art & Identity.
‘The emerging field of psychedelic psychogeography blends together the inner mythic journey of the shaman with the physicality of wandering the landscape. This practice may take place in urban settings or indoors at ‘museum level’ but it may also become a way of interacting with wilder or more organic landscapes. This approach may be deployed as part of a ‘pilgrimage’ where participants walk between ‘sacred sites’ such as prehistoric megaliths, remarkable nature features—such as the confluence of rivers or unusual geological formations—or more modern locations (telecommunications masts or lighthouses) that are interpreted in symbolic, associative terms.
- What might be the similarities and differences between Psychogeography and Pilgrimage?
Pilgrimage is an act of moving through space in a way that is centered on the numinous. Psychogeography need not have a discovery of the sacred as part of its project, and may instead be primarily concerned with political, artistic or other processes. I think both are certainly way of moving where the act of walking takes on a meta, archetypal significance and a single walk can certainly have aspects of both.
I once went for a walk with my son for a few days along the South West Coast Path. We camped out under the stars, listening to the waves. Was this just a walk? Was this a psychogeographical exploration of moving in a novel way to disrupt the usual power relationships? (At one point I had to ask him to take the big rucksack as I simply couldn’t carry it any further. A profound psychological moment of changed relationship perhaps?) Was this a pilgrimage? Well, we were not walking towards an identified sacred site or indeed along a road sanctified by religious association. However, was it in a sense a pilgrimage towards the revelation of my son as an adult alongside me? Yes, it certainly was that. My point is that the boundaries of these things are fluid. I’ve set out just to go for a walk, nothing special, and found myself plunged into a psychogeographical wonderland of the new by some simple quirk of fate. At other times I’ve found myself being a tourist at an attraction, most recently when visiting The Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona, and realised that I was actually on a pilgrimage.
Find a place to go exploring and try simply to change how (and thereby why) you move in the space. Here are a few techniques that I’ve used to ‘break set’ and to help me see things anew:
Try these ways of moving…
• Walking very slowly (particularly in a city)
• Walking between certain areas (from tree to tree, from one area in shadow or shade to the next).
• Adopting a particular gait – such as limp, crouching low (to see the world as a child might).
• Walking on the balls of the feet (rather than the heels). This way of walking is more common when we are barefoot and was common before hard soled shoes became ubiquitous.
You can also try to bring your attention to certain elements in the landscape such as:
• Cracks, edges, breaks and interpenetrations.
• Weather and its effects.
• Animals (actual creatures, including humans and representations of animals).
• The spaces between objects (in the Japanese the Ma), a‘gap‘, ‘space‘, ‘pause‘ or ‘the space between two structural parts‘ and other lacunae.
• Seeking out a particular colour/other elements of the landscape.
• Paying attention to smell, to other peoples’ conversations, to the sounds of the space (as such a humming of electrical equipment or the noise of car tyres on the road).
• Patterns in architecture and other elsewhere in the space.
- Given the limitations to health and movement that some folks might experience, are there any modifications that you would make to allow psychogeography to become more accessible?
There are of course many versions of psychogeographical and pilgrimage related practice that can be done completely alone and indeed without walking about. The classic shamanic inner world journey, pathworking, imaginal meditative techniques for many spiritual traditions—all provide the opportunity to travel without moving. Reading, film and other media can do the same—they give us ways to access new worlds and, if we take the time to reflect, they can help us understand our own context in new ways. Then there is the use of psychedelics which can certainly provide many of the same effects as pilgrimage and psychogeography. Terrence McKenna famously said that travel and psychedelics were the two best ways to broaden the mind and I think he had a point. That said it’s also vital not to mistake neophilia for the numinous, we can travel deep into the mystery with a magnifying glass and some patience if we sit for a while to observe a pond, even if that pond is one we see every day.
Coming up next….
Julian is teaching with Treadwell’s Books Chaos Magic online and in person, and two fully online workshops The Magick of Aleister Crowley and The Thoth Tarot. Julian is also lecturing on the tarot at The College of Psychic Studies.
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